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New apheresis unit revolutionizes transfusion medicine in UAE

The UAE has always been lauded for its blood safety services, and now the recent introduction of apheresis is further revolutionizing transfusion medicine, putting the country on the global healthcare map.

Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), a joint venture between Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic, recently established an ssApheresis unit under the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. The brand new unit, the only one of its kind in the United Arab Emirates, will be part of the transfusion medicine services.

Transfusion medicine is a branch of medicine that involves laboratory testing for blood components, clinical transfusion practices, patient blood management, and apheresis. The apheresis unit will provide support for a wide range of specialties including hematology and oncology, nephrology, neurology, dermatology and the bone marrow transplant program.

Dr. Hiba AlHumaidan, Consultant Clinical Pathologist and Head of Transfusion Medicine Services and Apheresis Unit at SSMC, said, “Our new Apheresis Unit has already been a game-changer for us with the cutting-edge technology providing one added support for some of our key specialties such as hematology and oncology.

“The potential for the transfusion medicine service is incredibly exciting, we are able to support the management of a wide range of conditions and with plans for growth we can provide new technologies and procedures to help more people with UAE who might be eligible for such treatments,” she added.

Among the first successful cases treated with transfusion medicine was that of Emirati Mohamed Al-Shehhi, 64, who was diagnosed with a very rare cutaneous lymphoma (cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, also known as Sézary syndrome ) in mid-2019.

For eight months, Al-Shehhi received various treatments in the United Arab Emirates without any improvement and was recommended extracorporeal photopheresis (ECP) therapy, a non-surgical apheresis procedure where white blood cells are separated, treated with specific drugs and then exposed to UVA light. during a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. While Al-Shehhi experienced significant improvement with this therapy at the Mayo Clinic, the treatment was not available in the United Arab Emirates at the time.

“Being able to access this treatment here in my home country has made a huge difference for me and means that I no longer need to travel abroad for treatment for long periods of time,” says Al- Shehhi.

Dr. Mustaqeem Siddiqui, Vice President and Practice Chair and Consultant in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at SSMC, explained, “As a pioneer in complex human-centered care, we are extremely happy to bring this innovative technology and treatment for the benefit of all. people of the United Arab Emirates. This is truly transforming healthcare delivery in the region and further placing Abu Dhabi on the global healthcare map.

Dr Nikita Singh, an internal medicine specialist at Aster Clinic, Business Bay, said the UAE was declared the haemovigilance capital of the world in 2017. Haemovigilance is the procedure for reporting adverse reactions from transfusion to ensure the safety and efficiency of blood transfusion. “Blood transfusion as such can be a double edged sword in the sense that while transfusion can have unwanted and harmful side effects, it can prove to be lifesaving if the right resources are available as they are in the UAE” , she said.

She added: “We have taken a giant leap forward in the field of transfusion medicine with the recent introduction of apheresis which has revolutionized transfusion medicine. As a doctor, I am extremely excited to see this innovative technology in the UAE. This is a massive advancement in the ever-evolving field of medicine.

According to Dr. AlHumaidan, successful improvement of symptoms in almost all cases of apheresis is noticed because it is a supportive treatment. “Apheresis is a supportive treatment to a larger treatment plan for patients and therefore it is difficult to state the success rate as there are indications that it is a category 1 very successful, then there’s a category 3. But generally speaking, it’s successful when used as directed.

Apheresis is a medical procedure that supports the management of over 80 different conditions and diseases. This is done by directing blood from the patient’s veins through tubes to a machine that separates the blood into its components. The diseased component is either removed or replaced, while the rest of the blood components are returned to the patient.

The whole process can take between two and four hours.

QUICK FACTS by SSMC

  • Since the opening of the Apheresis Unit in June 2021, 425 procedures have been performed
  • The number of procedures has increased from three per month to 55-60 per month currently.
  • Each patient may require anything between a procedure to >20 depending on condition and protocol
  • Of these procedures, 80 photopheresis procedures have been performed (since its launch in March/April 2022) for eight patients who are all enrolled in a specific program with a specific protocol that varies from person to person

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